The former Manchester United winger was shown a straight red card after a dangerous tackle on the Croatian international was met with the sternest possible punishment by referee Anthony Taylor.
The relegation-threatened Whites were already a goal down after Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount fired his side in front inside the opening five minutes at Elland Road - and their plight was made even worse when James was dismissed midway through the first-half.
The decision provoked anger on the Leeds bench as manager Jesse Marsch suggested his player had won the ball before making contact with Kovacic.
But former Liverpool and Rangers midfielder believes referee Taylor was correct to show a red card for what he described as “a dangerous tackle”.
He told Sky Sports: “It’s reckless, yes, he gets the ball, but his studs catch the rest of Kovacic. We will see the bench from Leeds United complaining he gets the ball.
“Yes, he gets the ball, but he gets more of the player. That’s a dangerous tackle and that’s a red card.
“In the heat of battle, you see things differently when you’re on the touchline - but I think he will reflect on that later when he sees it and say, yes that’s a sending-off.
“He’s got the ball, but his momentum, and there’s a lot of it, getting the ball, and a hell of a lot of Kovacic, that’s sending off.
“He’s endangered an opponent and that’s a red card.”